COVID Crashing the Party
In the world of recruiting, the class of 2021 has been a nightmare. Unfortunately for us recruiting junkies, the world does not revolve around grassroots AAU basketball, and it, like everything else, stopped before it ever began in the spring and summer of 2020. Some of those who were hit hardest were the big fish in small ponds: those who dominate a lackluster high school league and use the AAU season to confirm their status among the nation’s elite. These are often the recruits that Tony Bennett and Virginia’s staff will find early in the midst of a proverbial blow up at summer events and hound relentlessly. Instead, Virginia has been left watching class of 2021 recruitments run dry on both ends, save for New Zealand gem Taine Murray, who committed in September.
2021, however, is not the only class to suffer from a summer lost. Virginia famously will typically not offer a player until the staff, namely Tony Bennett, has seen them in person. Bennett has been more malleable in his approach this year, offering 2022’s Isaac Traudt, Austin Nunez, and Bobi Klintman without watching any of them personally. These 3, along with Virginia commit Isaac McKneely and Charlottesville product Justin Taylor, make up all of the Hoos outstanding offers in 2022. So what does Virginia have, and what do they want moving forward.
Virginia End Zone Lockdown (Navy)
Showcase the Lockdown Podcast with Tcov and Ball hawk with this Endzone Hoodie.
Navy Hoodie with Diamonds on the chest and Lockdown Podcast on the sleeve.
True to size. (Due to the limited nature of this product, we do not accept returns or exchanges)
The Tony Bennett Model
Striking early is as essential to Tony Bennett’s program as stingy packline defense. While the defense may be in flux, the former is not: Virginia struck gold early by adding its longstanding top prospect in 6’4” guard Isaac McKneely. McKneely will get type casted as Kyle Guy 2.0, but that’s not quite what he is. First, Isaac has Division 1 size at his position, as well as plus athleticism, especially for a shooter. While he does not have the lightning quick release of Guy (but then again, who does?), he has a more diverse set of playmaking skills at this stage in his career. McKneely has the quiet confidence of his future coach, but won’t shy away from taking his chances on electrifying dunks in traffic. Similar to former top targets like Reece Beekman, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and London Perrantes, odds are McKneely will likely be VERY good in a Virginia uniform.
Virginia currently has 4 scholarships available between 2021, 2022, and any incoming transfers they may want by the 2022-23 season. With six guards slotted to take the court in 2022, it would seem Virginia is all booked. However, Tony Bennett has held very steady to his point guard every other year formula, and likely needs another full time point guard by 2022. In the front court, the Hoos will look to add a mix of distinct skill sets at forward. These include a stay-at-home PF/C similar to Kadin Shedrick or Akil Mitchell, a rangy floor-spacing forward in the making of a Sam Hauser, and potentially another De’Andre type forward capable of guarding a wide range of positions and providing some playmaking on offense.
Same Skills, New Faces
Now for the fun part: who exactly will Virginia try to piece together in its 2022 dream class? With the addition of Isaac McKneely, the allure to other fellow playmakers like Isaac significantly increases. There may be more mouths to feed, but there is far more opportunity to shine alongside other stars. You’d be a fool to think Ty Jerome, Kyle Guy, and De’Andre Hunter didn’t help one another’s draft stock two short seasons ago.
The Wahoos are looking to continue their adoption of the Rule of Two: Tony Bennett almost always has two point guards on his roster, no more, no less. There will be no exception in the class of 2022, when Bennett looks to offer an apprentice to the future master, Reece Beekman. The targeted apprentice? Austin Nunez, 6’3” bomber from Garden Ridge, Texas. Fans will be happy to hear Nunez has a lot of Ty Jerome in him: he is a savvy pass first guard who can absolutely torch the net from deep. Nunez and his father, TX AAU stalwart Lupe Nunez, have an extremely sound grasp on the recruiting process, and look to waste no time. Nunez has an unofficial top 4 of Virginia, Texas, Baylor, and Arkansas, but is not afraid to branch out of the south central, if the right future Hall of Fame coach comes knocking.
Amongst the more important needs we will likely see addressed is one that Hoos fans have been waiting for since his departure: the De’Andre Hunter Swiss army knife wing. Hunter could tear opposing defenses to shreds with his length and shooting, but may have been just as important on the defensive side of the ball. Braxton Key emulated a lot of what Hunter did on defense, and it’s a skill Virginia has sorely missed this year. The current frontrunner for this role is Swedish import Bobi Klintman. The 6’8” forward can do it all on the wing, but most notably will punish opposing teams with his size and athleticism slashing in the paint if they overcommit to his lethal 3-pointer. After watching his tape, it’s easy to see why fans have declared him the second-coming of De’Andre Hunter.
The Traudt Paradigm
The top of this Tony’s list of playmakers is none other than Isaac Squared member (pending….) Isaac Traudt. Traudt falls within the parameters of the Sam Hauser role that was described above; he’s a 6’9” lights out shooter who can score at all three levels. The scary part? Even at 6’9”, Traudt plays like a guard, and may not be done growing. Virginia is a favorite at this point, but Traudt has exploded this season, setting a Nebraska Class A scoring record with a 57 point outing. The key for Virginia? Stay on top, and seal the deal early. Isaac knows he has the attention of blue bloods, but Virginia has already established a very sound relationship with the elite Nebraska forward.
Not only is Traudt an extremely talented player, but he is an integral part of Virginia’s recruiting picture moving forward. If Tony Bennett is able to secure a commitment from him, that allows Virginia to go all out on building a front court that complements his game. For instance, if Traudt were to commit before the late signing period in 2021, we would likely see Virginia pursue a more paint oriented, rim protecting forward late in 2021 to pair with Traudt long-term. However, it’s not easy to find a viable option this late in the 2021 cycle, so this need may be pushed to the class of 2022.
Piecing it all Together
Whether it’s by way of transfer, late 2021 addition, or a massive 2022 haul, fans should expect Virginia to bring in the next line of orange and blue stars by the time the 2022-23 season comes around. The mold is simple enough: Taine Murray, point guard, McKneely, versatile forward, stretch four, and a banger inside- but if Bennett can miraculously turn that into Taine Murray, Nunez, McKneely, Bobi Klintman, Traudt, and an Akil Mitchell type rim protector? The ACC may as well just roll out the balls against the Hoos and save their energy for second place.
Image Courtesy of Bleacher Report: https://syndication.bleacherreport.com/amp/2820874-report-uva-coach-tony-bennett-has-not-said-no-yet-to-ucla-basketball-job.amp.html